The road from 2011 when Alejandro SABELLA took over until the present.
It's incredible to believe that we've reached the last round and final two matches of the World Cup Qualifiers. It really feels like just yesterday that we were all waiting in anticipation for Argentina's road to the World Cup to begin. For the first few matches, we really did go through the motions. Gonzalo HIGUAIN scored a hattrick in the opening match against Chile and the next match we lost to Venezuela for the first time in our history. After that came a draw against Bolivia at home after a horrendous mistake by Martin DEMICHELIS which essentially saw his Argentina career come to an end. The next match really was the turning point. Nicolas BURDISSO suffered a severe injury against Colombia in the first half which also saw Javier MASCHERANO score an own goal to give Colombia a 1-0 lead going into half time.
It looked like a disaster. A loss against Venezuela, a draw against Bolivia, what looked like a sure loss against Colombia away from home, a BURDISSO injury and a MASCHERANO own goal. Alejandro SABELLA had no other option but to introduce Sergio AGUERO into the match as he came on. Lionel MESSI grabbed the game by the throat and ripped it up. A true captain's performance. He scored the first goal and helped set up the second as AGUERO scored the game winner. A match full of emotion. After that came the demolition of Ecuador in a 4-0 win for Argentina. Argentina got 3 wins out of a possible 4 as they tied against Peru but were victorious against Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile. Following that game, a win against Venezuela at home, which was followed by three consecutive draws. Away to Bolivia, at home to Colombia and away to Ecuador before winning comfortably against Paraguay.
We've come a long way from when Alejandro SABELLA first took charge of the team. The back line was far from what it is today. Martin DEMICHELIS, Nicolas BURDISSO, Clemente RODRIGUEZ, Nicolas OTAMENDI, Leandro DESABATO and I'm probably missing a few others all got a chance under SABELLA. Ultimately, he stuck with Federico FERNANDEZ and Ezequiel GARAY with ZABALETA on the right. There remains a question mark for the left back spot. In midfield, SABELLA has used different players. It hasn't always been the fantastic 4. Ever BANEGA started the first match against Chile with MASCHERANO, SOSA and DI MARIA. But as things progressed, SOSA found himself in and out of the team while GAGO has solidified his spot next to MASCHERANO (when he's not injured) but DI MARIA has kept his position. Up front, while it's always been MESSI and HIGUAIN with AGUERO getting starts, SABELLA has tried out different players. Hernan BARCOS and Franco DI SANTO come to mind.
This is just me being me, but I don't think we can really bad mouth SABELLA. When he took charge, the team really was a mess. SABELLA took over a team that had MARADONA and BATISTA as the two previous managers. Argentina for the better part of 5 years had no identity. A significant blow against Germany at the World Cup was humiliating. After that came BATISTA who saw his team get eliminated at home in the Round of 16 of the Copa America. Remember when SABELLA took over, DEMICHELIS and BURDISSO were still starting. DI MARIA constantly looked like a headless chicken. MASCHERANO was being left to dry so much that some people even wanted him dropped from the team. MESSI was trying but just couldn't score. It was bad. SABELLA inherited a team in crisis and if the biggest complaint that some people could muster up is that Claudio YACOB isn't being called-up, well, I say SABELLA has done an incredible job.
Is the team flawless? Of course not. But no team in the world is. We're now in a very comfortable position. Yes, we have about 9 players injured and it's not ideal. It's allowing SABELLA to try out different players to see how we might look without some regular starters. Erik LAMELA and Mauro ICARDI come to mind. I just want to say that no matter the outcome of these two matches against Peru and Uruguay, there is no need to panic. We will be facing a team that is already out of the World Cup without several regular starters not available. The second match against an Uruguay team who will be fighting for every ball and every point available to make the World Cup.
I've read a lot of comments about people asking why Rodrigo BRANA is there and why Claudio YACOB isn't. Or how come Willy CABALLERO hasn't been called-up. The answers are fairly simple. We've reached the end of the phase where SABELLA can call-up new players. BRANA has very little chances of making the World Cup as there's Javier MASCHERANO, Fernando GAGO, Ever BANEGA and Lucas BIGLIA all ahead of him. But he goes with BRANA instead of YACOB because BRANA's played with Argentina under SABELLA before. He knows what to expect. If YACOB gets called-up, it's something completely new to him. SABELLA prefers to go with someone who he knows and not call-up someone new just for the sake of having a new name on the list. Mauro ICARDI is a different story. For all we know, SABELLA's hand could be forced into calling him up because of Italy. SABELLA must have known that the team would be qualified before the last two matches when he met ICARDI a few months ago. It was around that time that ITALY wanted to call him up and while ICARDI probably will not make the World Cup squad, he would have played a match for Argentina which is the important thing with him.
Willy CABALLERO's situation is probably a bit more difficult to explain. Sergio ROMERO has saved Argentina numerous time and if you're managing a team, it would be difficult to drop your starting goalkeeper of two years who has done well for the most part because there's one that is playing very well for their club. Decisions like these have an impact in the locker room. Dropping ROMERO and bringing in CABALLERO could hurt the spirit of the team and the atmosphere between the players. A lot of these guys have come through youth teams together. ROMERO, AGUERO, DI MARIA and BANEGA all played at the 2007 U20 World Cup together. MESSI, AGUERO, ROMERO, DI MARIA, BANEGA, MASCHERANO, LAVEZZI, GARAY and even SOSA all played at the 2008 Olympics. There's a sort of team harmony between them. I'm not saying CABALLERO shouldn't have gotten a match at one point or that he should have, but these sort of decisions go beyond how well a player is doing for their club.
There is an article which has been written by a Mundo Albiceleste viewer about Argentina's past against Peru and I'll also be writing an article, hopefully prior to the match against Peru, about some of the players which are fan favorites that haven't been called-up.